Thursday, April 28, 2011
Isaac Bashevis Singer (1904-1991) is the most famous Yiddish writer of the twentieth century, and translations of his works have made him one of the most beloved in English. A prolific writer who vividly conjured the annihilated Jewish world of eastern Europe, he spoke to the fears, longings, and ambivalence of America's modern nation of immigrants. Singer drew on folk memories and mystical traditions to create a body of work that moved dramatically from the realistic to the fantastic, in ways that startled readers and inspired other writers. Singer's characters—often Holocaust survivors haunted by their immediate past and disoriented by American reality—dramatized the conflicts not only of postwar American Jews, but of an entire society committed both to cultural pluralism and to assimilation.
see a site dedicated to him at Library of America.
Here is an on-line copy of Susan Glenn's book, Daughters of the Shtetl. It looks at both life and labor of Jewish immigrants in New York at the turn of the century, eventually leading to the uprising of 1909. Should serve as a valuable supplement to Von Drehle's early chapters.
Another book I was able to find on-line is The Promised City - New York's Jews, 1870-1914, by Moses Rischin, who,
paints a vivid picture of Jewish life in New York at the turn of the century. Here are the old neighborhoods and crowded tenements, the Rester Street markets, the sweatshops, the birth of Yiddish theatre in America, and the founding of important Jewish newspapers and labor movements. The book describes, too, the city's response to this great influx of immigrants—a response that marked the beginning of a new concept of social responsibility.
To complete this triptych, here is a copy of Hasia Diner's Lower East Side Memories, which recounts the period 1880-1930.
Diner, the inspired historian, has found her way to a particular intersection that no one else has located quite so precisely . . . the exact place where cultural identity, historical myth and geographical location run together, in a tangle of traffic and honking horns, a strangely emotional place. . .
From Princeton Univ. Press.
Here's a reprint of Sidney Lens' classic book on The Labor Wars, looking both within and without the unions, first published in 1974,
In Labor Wars, Lens demonstrates how, contrary to conventional wisdom, the struggle of workers for decent pay and conditions on the job, democracy, and social justice has played a far more pivotal role in shaping American life than any president or general. In gripping detail, Labor Wars rescues the rich tradition of working-class rebellion that has so powerfully defined our history.
Sunday, April 24, 2011
The Easter Egg Roll is apparently a German tradition that was first brought to America in the 1700s. It has since become a staple of Easter activities at the White House. The first egg rolls took place on the Capitol lawn, before being moved to the White House by Rutherford B. Hayes. Seems Congress was worried the kids were damaging the grass. The Easter Egg Hunt was added by Ronald Reagan in 1981.
The photo above dates from1929.
Friday, April 22, 2011
Here is an online copy of Leon Stein's classic account of The Triangle Fire, which offers an even more visceral portrayal of the event. I've also attached a link to a great page on The Triangle Factory Fire available through Cornell University, which includes survivor accounts, audio recordings, photos and illustrations.
Tuesday, April 19, 2011
Welcome to this month's reading group selection. David Von Drehle mentions The Melting Pot, a play by Israel Zangwill, that premiered on Broadway in 1908. At that time theater was accessible to a broad section of the public, not the exclusive domain it has become over the decades. Zangwill carried a hopeful message that America was a place where old hatreds and prejudices were pointless, and that in this new country immigrants would find a more open society. I suppose the reference was more an ironic one for Von Drehle, as he notes the racial and ethnic hatreds were on display everywhere, and at best Zangwill's play helped persons forget for a moment how deep these divides ran. Nevertheless, "the melting pot" made its way into the American lexicon, even if New York could best be describing as a boiling cauldron in the early twentieth century.
Triangle: The Fire That Changed America takes a broad view of events that led up the notorious fire, noting the growing strength of trade unions, the suffragette movement and Socialist Party in New York. Traditional Tammany Hall politics were in danger, and factory owners had to form associations of their own to battle the unions. At the center of his narrative is the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, owned and operated by Harris and Blanck, who epitomized the unscrupulous garment industry of the day. They fought tooth and nail against union attempts in their factories, and thanks to friendly city officials, did not have to meet basic fire and safety regulations in their factory located in the upper floors of the Asch Building at Washington Place.
What follows is a very engaging narrative that captures the spirit of the era, leading the reader through the events that led up the the worst factory fire in New York history and how this fire shaped American labor history. You can browse past comments, but please post your comments on the book here.
Thursday, April 14, 2011
Can't say I'm a big fan of David McCullough but this new book sure looks interesting. Too soon for any formal reviews. I'll have to check my amazon vine for an advance copy, but will probably wait for the deckle-edged hardcover. I was rather disappointed with the advance copy of TR I received. Many of the photos hadn't even been set, and there were numerous typos. What can you expect for free?
Wednesday, April 13, 2011
Looks like an interesting new book by Noah Feldman, exploring four of FDR's Supreme Court appointments: Felix Frankfurter, Robert Jackson, Hugo Black and William O. Douglas. This is the Supreme Court as it appeared in 1943.
The narrative picks up steam when it turns from what drew these men together to what tore them apart. The pages overflow with rivalries and a “Devil’s Dictionary” of invective. Jackson blasts Black for not recusing himself from a case that his former law partner argued. Black exacts his revenge by persuading the president not to appoint Jackson chief justice. Douglas assails Frankfurter as a pedant, complaining that his speeches at the justices’ conferences last precisely 50 minutes — the length of a Harvard Law School class. Frankfurter calls Douglas one of the “two completely evil men I have ever met.”
Here's more ...
Tuesday, April 12, 2011
"...that shot was a sound of alarm that brought every soldier in the harbor to his feet."
In many ways, it seems we are right back where we started when you look how divided our country has become again. You would think after 150 years we would have moved past this event, but with more and more land being set aside in memory of the Civil War, it seems we prefer to live with constant reminders.
I remember living in Charleston for awhile, and the legacy of the war is palpable. The old mansion I was residing in as a guest of the Historic Charleston Foundation was made over into a battlefield one weekend, and these guys and gals took their battle very seriously.
I still think Bruce Catton's first book in his Centennial Series, The Coming Fury, does the best job of capturing the events leading up to the Civil War. Sadly, however, it doesn't seem like we took many lessons from this war. Instead, we keep repeating them endlessly, as if we are on some treadmill. I suppose it is because we still prefer to view the war in "heroic" terms rather than honestly discuss what the war was about. I thought David Blight did an excellent job in discussing Race and Reunion.
Saturday, April 9, 2011
Seeing the anniversary note of the Mercury Seven this morning, brought to mind Tom Wolfe's great book The Right Stuff. I thought Kaufman did a great job with the movie as well, as it really captured the spirit of that era. I really liked the way Wolfe and Kaufman weaved Chuck Yeager into the action. Sam Shepard was super as Yeager. I was a small boy in the 60s so my memories are more of the Apollo mission and in particular Neil Armstrong's "small step." I couldn't get enough of chocolate "space sticks" and orange "Tang."
Friday, April 8, 2011
A question came up on a popular quiz show last night about Martin Van Buren, asking Lithuanian students what popular expression arose from Van Buren's nickname, "Old Kinderhook." Sad to say, I was stumped, but the kids representing Vilnius University correctly came up with OK. As it turns out, that's not quite the full story. It is true that an OK Club was formed by supporters of Van Buren in 1840, but the term itself is derived from "oll korrect," a popular misspelling at the time. Such abbreviations came into vogue in the late 1830s. I guess Van Buren's supporters liked the double entendre in the word, as everything was OK with Old Kinderhook, but as it turns out he was no match for "Tippecanoe and Tyler Too," although we ended up getting stuck with Tyler.
Tuesday, April 5, 2011
I was able to find Atlantic Diasporas available on-line, which looks into the impact Conversos and other Jews had on the mercantile industry in America from 1500-1800.
Trippler recommended Cecil Roth's A History of the Marranos. This link provides an on-line preview.
There is also Conversos of the Americas by Keith Fogel. I was only able to find a preview at amazon.
Feel free to continue the discussion on Conversos in America here.
Monday, April 4, 2011
Anyone taken a stab at Sean Wilentz' Age of Reagan yet? Apparently, he tries to put some perspective on the events that have shaped this country the past 35 years, taking his survey back to 1974 when Reagan rose to prominence within the Republican Party. Here is Douglas Brinkley sounding off on the book.
This book is not to be confused with Steven Hayward's hagiography.
Interesting article from The New Yorker last year on the Koch Bros. as the new power brokers in the Republican party. They parlayed their fortune in Brawny paper towels, Dixie cups and Lycra into influencing state elections. Now, they set their eyes on toppling Obama.
Here's a book that takes a different look at the 80s,
In this engaging new book, Bradford Martin illuminates a different 1980s than many remember—one whose history has been buried under the celebratory narrative of conservative ascendancy. Ronald Reagan looms large in most accounts of the period, encouraging Americans to renounce the activist and liberal politics of the 1960s and ‘70s and embrace the resurgent conservative wave. But a closer look reveals that a sizable swath of Americans strongly disapproved of Reagan’s policies throughout his presidency. With a weakened Democratic Party scurrying for the political center, many expressed their dissatisfaction outside electoral politics.
Here's more ...
Friday, April 1, 2011
As good a tip of a hat to April 1 as any. This book, Over the Cliff, tries to make sense of the Radical Right, from its "tea parties" to its high priced lobbyists. Amato and Niewert have a popular blog, Crooks and Liars, which pretty much sums up the Republican Party. I just wish more persons would take note of these flimflam artists.